Colossal day tomorrow with Nadal and Djokovic about to play their second clay-court final of the spring. Here's 5 quick and random thoughts about the upcoming clash:
1. Of all the surfaces that this match could be on, clay is probably the best.
Not that a Djokovic-Nadal match up wouldn't be must-see tennis on any surface, but clay works for me the best. Clay will limit aces and return winners, so each player will be forced to play tactically on the return, looking for a place to put the ball that will generate preferred patterns and keep the ball out of the wheelhouse of the other.
But the server will be looking to elicit a weak return, and of course, be hoping to make a lot of first serves. For Nadal, this should be no problem. The guy makes first serves almost as good as he pays his bills. For Djokovic it will be key: He'll need to make a fair amount of them.
So it will be a battle of who can get the most out their serve and return to gain the most advantages in the early phases of what are sure to be a lot of baseline rallies that exceed 8 strokes or so.
2. Expect Nole to be much better than he was in Monte-Carlo.
Judging from Djokovic's play yesterday in his semifinal against Roger Federer, he's playing with as much passion as he had in Australia. We have been building to the next month of the season since early February. Here we are now at the jumping off point.
3. How important is this match?
Look, this isn't Roland Garros. Let's get that straight right off the bat. That said, this might be the biggest possible non-Slam final that Djokovic and Nadal could play. Both clearly covet the Rome title. If you don't think so, check the facts. Either Nadal or Djokovic has won the last seven. Clearly each comes to play here.
Additionally, each has the next week off, so they'd like nothing more than to be pushed to the limits by the other in a three set battle for the upper hand. Barring injury, both are primed to go has hard as they possibly can for this title.
And when it comes to momentum, both know that a victory in Rome would be the ultimate impetus for a French Open push.
4. Who needs it more?
I think Djokovic needs it more in a way. I don't think a hard-fought loss would be catastrophic but a blowout might really put some doubt in the Serb's head. To have the streak end was inevitable, but if Nadal takes a second straight convincing decision over Djokovic, won't he start to wonder if he's run out of his luck and won't he start to suffer from the defeatist attitude that comes with it if he does?
I think Nadal can afford to lose, because Nadal proved enough to himself in Monte-Carlo to have a good feeling heading into his chase for the all-time French Open title lead. But, if he's beaten soundly in the same fashion that Djokovic beat him soundly in Rome last year, Nadal might start to think his Monte-Carlo win over Nole was a blip. There's danger in that, too.
5. Who will win?
I think Nadal in three. I said that only after I had decided that it would be Djokovic in three. It's really a tough call.